Male-biased operational sex ratios are very common in sexually mature dragonflies. These may be due to differential survival or differences in time spent at the breeding site by the sexes. Because most studies are carried out at the breeding site, these two processes can be measured as survival rates or recapture rates using modern capture–mark–recapture methods. We marked 66 female and 233 male Coenagrion puella, and 137 female and 347 male Ischnura elegans during three capture periods spread over 18 days. Each time an animal was recaptured it was re-marked so that the capture history of any captured animal could be readily identified. We recaptured 131 C. puella and 55 I. elegans at least once. We used the Cormack–Jolly–Seber model to estimate the daily probability of survival and recapture. The probability of recapture was, on average, more than three times higher for male C. puella (0.489) than females (0.133) with significant day to day variation. The daily probability of survival did not differ significantly between the sexes (0.860), with no significant variation among days. In contrast, in I. elegans the probability of recapture did not differ between the sexes (0.139 for the first 5 days; between 0.032 and 0.287 for the final 3 days), but the daily probability of surviving was much higher for males (0.812) than for females (0.579). Assuming that the sex ratio was unity at sexual maturity, the recapture and survival rates predicted well the sex ratio of the sample of C. puella but predicted more males than were observed in the sample of I. elegans. This suggests that male I. elegans may suffer higher mortality than females in the immature stage.